A Brief Historical Sketch
What began as the Christian Negro Seventh-day Adventist church in 1912 and soon afterward incorporated as the General Assembly, never had any doctrinal disagreements with regular Seventh-day Adventists, but had to organize among themselves due to the racial restrictions of the times. These colored ministers suffered and endured great injustices both inside and outside their church. It was their desire to carry forward the work began by Edson White in Vicksburg, Mississippi, yet they were met with discouraging circumstances on every side. They refused to be hindered by any man.
"By 1906 more Blacks emerged and began working feverishly in response to Mrs. White's appeal to labor for their own. In addition to J.H. Laurence, there were Sidney Scott, U. S. Willis, John G. Thomas, Louis C. Sheafe. Fred H. Seeny, Thomas H. and Jonathan Allison, Paul B. Bontemps, John Frank Bookhart Sr., John and Charles Manns, John Stevens and others. Not all of these persons had attended the school (Huntsville), but they all shared the burden of preaching to and helping their people."1
"By the end of the nineteenth century, some African-American leaders had begun to establish Seventh-day Adventist congregations on their own in Georgia, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. John and Charles Manns began the work in Savannah, Georgia; Louis C. Sheafe organized the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Washington, D.C; Harry Lowe started the church at Edgefield Junction, Tennessee; Alonzo Barry brought together a group in Louisville, Kentucky."2
Unfortunately our brethren in leadership were not prepared mentally or spiritually for the increase of colored ministers, workers and members.
"The Adventist church was blessed with a dramatic increase in the African-American component of its membership-from 50 in 1900 to 900 by 1909. The church organized the Negro Department of the General Conference to give special attention to this growing membership. Blacks were sharing the biblical beliefs of the church with members of their own race whenever they came together. This growth in membership caused grave concerns to the leadership,who began concerted efforts to curb the rapid growth by dismissing some of the strongest and most prominent African-American soul winners."ibid
John Manns experience and dismissal is a dramatic example of the unresolved issues of that time. One of the biggest of the issues was the deeding of property, or the refusal of, to the conferences for which they had little confidence.
"Soon the work among African-Americans was considered a financial burden on the church. It is interesting to observe that the financial and numerical records of non-whites have been kept since the early days of the church."ibid
Ellen White understood the plight of those workers in the south in those early days, and the need for both "regular and irregular lines," that the work might be advanced inspite of...
As the leadership began to view the southern work as a financial strain on the church, meetings were held to find out how best to close some of these southern missionary projects in order to relieve the financial burden as they saw it.
"After arriving in Nashville, Edson took the printing presses off the Morning Star and established what was later to become the Southern Publishing Association... It was established to print literature for distribution among the Colored people and the poor Whites in the South. In addition to facing challenges from people in the area, opposition from the brethren in Battle Creek had to be constantly dealt with. It appeared that the church leaders were determined to put an end to the work being done for people living in the South.
"Not long after this venture began, Elder A. G. Daniells, the president of the General Conference, along with some church leaders, visited Ellen White in her home at Elmshaven in California and urged that the operation be closed. It was a financial burden on the church, they complained. Not wanting the brethren to feel that she was upholding Edson, her son, in some wrongdoing, she agreed to the closing of the project.
"However, after the brethren left, God spoke to her in a vision and chided her that she should stop listening to the brethren and listen to him. She was warned that the Southern Publishing project was not to be closed but should remain in operation to serve Blacks and poor Whites living in the Southland."ibid
As the majority of the Oakwood students who finished their courses were not being hired, along with their white counterparts, many had to become self-supporting. Because the workers in the south were being dismissed, underpaid, and outright neglected, Ellen White proceeded to venture outside the "regular channels," to support the workers there. She also encouraged those who followed her example in this.
"It has been presented to me for years that my tithe was to be appropriated by myself to aid White and Colored ministers who were neglected and did no receive a sufficient amount to support their families properly. When my attention was called to aged ministers, White and Black, it was my special duty to investigate into their necessities and supply their needs. This was to be my special work, and I have done this in a number of cases. No man should give noteriety to the fact that in special cases the tithe is used in that way.
In regard to the Colored work in the south, that field has been and is still being robbed of means that should come to the workers in that field. If there have been cases where our sisters have appropriated their tithe to the support of the ministers working for the Colored people in the South, let every man, if he is wise hold his peace." *3
So as history would have it, the Christian Negro Seventh-day Adventist Church arose out of these circumstances, and developed into what would become the "General Assembly."
John Manns, founder of the General Assembly of Free Seventh-day Adventists, often quoted the following statement of Mrs. E.G. White as pinpointing the underlying cause for why his organization began:
"Laws and rules are being made at the centers of the work that will soon be broken into atoms. Men are not to dictate.. It is not for those in places of authority to employ all their powers to sustain some while others are cast down, ignored, forsaken, and left to perish. None are to excercise their human authority to bind the mind and souls of their fellow men...If the cords are drawn much tighter, if the rules are made much finer, if men continue to bind their fellow laborers closer and closer to the commandments of men, many will be stirred by the Spirit of God (not the spirit of apostasy) to break every shackle and assert their liberty in Christ Jesus" Church Order and Discipline page 154
It all began with one of the greatest "colored" evangelists in Seventh-day Adventism-Evangelist John Manns, who decided to assert his "liberty in Christ Jesus". Thousands were baptized, and nearly 120 churches formed under the name of "Free Seventh-day Adventists". These churches were raised up in North America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Pioneer adventist evangelist, and first black president of the North American Division of the General Conference , Elder Charles E. Bradford D. D. states in the journal "Perspectives":
"John Manns pioneered the Seventh-day Adventist work among African-Americans in Florida and Georgia. Anna Knight felt that he was the most effective preacher among African-American ministers. Others said he possessed extraordinary natural leadership gifts...Manns’ dispute was social and organizational." *4
Elder Charles Brooks included Elder J. W. Manns in his hall of faithful historic black evangelist pioneers in the journal "Perspectives":
"Adventist workers, especially those who passed through Oakwood College, began to disperse all across this country and the world. Black preachers, blessed with the gifts of eloquence and imagery and substance, clearly defined the Adventist message with simplicity and power. Thank God, the message He has given us to preach comes interwoven throughout with power. It just needs “preaching” and “living,” and God’s Black Adventist servants were qualified by the Holy Spirit to do both. Across the land a host of Christian soldiers preached with power: P. G. Rodgers, Benjamin Abney, Napoleon Smith, W. H. Green, John and Charles Manns, George E. Peters, F. L. Peterson, M. C. Strachan, L. C. Sheafe, J. K. Humphrey, R. L. Bradford, C. F. Phipps, Louis Bland, J. E. Cox, Sr., J. H. Laurence, U. S. Willis, T. M. Rowe, A. E. Webb, H. W. Kibble, R. E. Warnick, H. R. Murphy, W. W. Fordham, and others." *5
Former South Central Conference President and trailblazer, Elder Charles Dudley refers to the Manns brothers, in his widely acclaimed volume, "Thou Who Has Brought us Thus Far On Our Way".
Elder Dudley quotes in his book a testimony by a southern pioneer pastor N. B. Smith Sr.
"John W. Manns was from Savannah Georgia, who had been a baptist minister when the truth came to him. He accepted the teachings of Adventism and brought his congregation along with him. Among those families who are still with the church are the Lewises, Lesters and Phipps who are strong members and some of whom serve in the organized work today."
"The Manns brothers-John, Charles and Lewis-worked very hard to build up the work in that part of the Southland, but when the work began to grow and needs for help and housing began to multiply, requests were made to the leaders of the organization only to be ignored. John W. Manns showed a great concern that all of the presidents were all White and no opportunities were granted to the Colored to lead even their own people in a wider experience in the building of the work. All of the funds were being sent to the conference but little if any was being returned to strengthen the work in the Black community. Manns was a very strong influential man who sought better relationship between the races. At that time Manns had the largest congregations in the South in Savannah. After making many appeals to the leaders for help with caring for the needs of his people, he became discouraged and severed himself from the Seventh-day Adventist body, although he still held to the biblical teachings of the church"
"Elder Manns' organization existed side by side with the regular adventist organizaion and used Adventist literature and established a paper on his own...after his death the group disintegrated. They called themselves 'Free Seventh-day Adventists".*6 Says Dudley,"In 1970 there were still remnants of the Manns movement in New York, Chicago, and Omaha." ibid.
In the words of Elder Manns, "We stand upon the principle advocated by our Father Abraham. When he saw that other methods had failed, he said: "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen, for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee: Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me. If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right, then I will go on the left." Gen. 13:8-9 Thus, for what seemed to Abraham to be good for the two, he and Lot, though brethren separated...in order to safeguard the interest of all concerned, at times, separations are of a necessity." Why Free Seventh-day Adventists p. 1 J. W. Mann.
Other churches that encountered the same difficulties, decided to join the General Assembly. L.C. Sheafe mostly known for his connection with the People's Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington DC, was a minister in the General Assembly of FSDA, (of which he helped form) for a little less than a year. The Berean Church of Los Angeles which Sheafe pastored, ceded from the Southern California Conference in September of 1915. This was the result of leaders applying Ellen White's counsels about how to labor in the supremecist south to their local contex in California. This they believed was a misapplication based on wrong sentiments. Upon withdrawing from the Southern California Conference, the Berean Church referred to themselves as the "Berean Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists." The Berean Free SDA Church, joined the General Assembly in 1916, after L.C Sheafe briefly left for a southern missionary endeavor with John Mann's, who had also severed ties with the Southern Union around the same time period that year. It was there in Savannah Georgia that Manns and Sheafe developed and implemented the concept of a large Free SDA system of Assemblies, and a "General Assembly" of Free Seventh-day Adventists according to the May issue of the 1916 Savannah tribune. L. C. Sheafe worked together with John Manns conducting the "Banner of Truth" tent crusade there in Savannah lasting a few months, which was widely attended, and much reported about. Afterwards his travels took him to Washington DC and other cities of the east coast before returning to the Los Angeles Berean Church. His tenure ended there by July of 1917 according to the July 21 1917 edition of the Savannah Tribune, but his activities there appear to have come to an end in December 1916, according to Washington Adventist University historian Douglas Morgan. L. C. Sheafe had afterwards labored in Kansas City, Missouri and later that year accepted a ministerial call back to the "People's Church" in the nation's capital where he remained until his death. Morgan states that the "Manns-Sheafe alliance did not last a year,"* (special note), and that after leaving to go back to Washington, he never again affiliated with Free Seventh-day Adventists or Regular Adventists again. The organization thrived under Mann's leadership thereafter. J. B. Mosley, President of the General Assembly and successor of Elder Manns, visited the church in Los Angeles, conducted an evangelistic series, extended the right hand of fellowship to the new members, and assigned a new minister for Berean.
The first churches to join together with the newly formed Free SDA organization in 1916 were located in Dallas Texas under Thomas DeFreeze, and Lexington, Kentucky under J. E. Brice, and a congregation in Charleston SC.
Elder Dudley goes further to state: "The Manns brothers organized the Free Seventh-day Adventist Church, but held to the same teachings and organizational structure of the main body. John, the strongest of the group, visited Jamaica and conducted very successful crusades there; hundreds were baptized. Unfortunately, Elder John Manns, who was charged by denominational leaders with bringing division into the church, became gravely ill while attending a social gathering in Costa Rica and died there. He was 48 years old at his death. This strong and promising leader was used by God to share the gospel truth with African-Americans and others. He was a blessing to the growth of the church. He adhered strongly to the biblical teachings of the church and taught his family to remain with these teachings" *7
It was on April 1 1929 that Elder John Manns went to sleep in Jesus. Others immediately laid hold of the banner he carried and continued on. Of him it was said; "The theme of our noble teacher was the soon coming Saviour to the world. He warned them to beware of false doctrines calling their attention to serve the true and living God."
Elder Manns proclaimed, "We, Free Seventh-day Adventists, believe all the fundamental principles of the doctrines as were taught by the founders of the Seventh-day Adventists denomination." *8
Now at the dawn of the new millenium, Free Seventh-day Adventists continue to proclaim the message of a crucified, risen, and soon coming Savior to the world. Its churches are present truth and evangelism centered, its health institutions practice natural medicine free of drugs and are the marvel of many in the medical world, and its schools are based upon "the blue-print" of practical manual skills and bible knowledge combined. Thus the vision of Evangelist Manns continues to this day. Through these means we expect that many souls will embrace the "last message of mercy" here at the close of this world's history. All the praise goes to Jesus Christ our leader.
Note: Sources for this "A brief historical sketch"
*1. Dudley, Charles Edward Sr. "Thou Who Has Brought Us Thus Far On Our Way" -The Development of the Seventh day Adventist Denomination among African Americans. Book Three Volume Three. Edited by Tama Henley Curry. Dudley Publications, 2000 Pp. 7
*2. Dudley, Charles Edward Sr. "Thou Who Has Brought Us Thus Far On Our Way" -The Development of the Seventh day Adventist Denomination among African Americans. Book Three Volume Three. Edited by Tama Henley Curry. Dudley Publications, 2000 Pp. 1-5
*3. Letter to G. F. Watson (President of the Colorado Conference) by Ellen White- Dated January 22 1905
*4 Bradford, Charles E. "Black Seventh-day Adventists and Church Loyalty." In Perspectives: Black Seventh-day Adventists Face the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Calvin B. Rock. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. Pp.11-19.
Her. Coll. BX6128.9 .B57 P47 1996 (2nd copy in main collection)
*5 Brooks, Charles D. "Black Seventh-day Adventists and Public Evangelism." Perspectives: Black Seventh-day Adventists Face the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Calvin B. Rock. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. Pp.11-19.
Her. Coll. BX6128.9 .B57 P47 1996 (2nd copy in main collection)
*6 Dudley, Charles Edward Sr. "Thou Who Has Brought Us Thus Far On Our Way"-The Development of the Seventh day Adventist Denomination among African Americans. Book Three Volume Three. Edited by Tama Henley Curry. Dudley Publications, 2000 Pp. 38-39
*7 Dudley, Charles Edward Sr. "Thou Who Has Brought Us Thus Far On Our Way"-The Development of the Seventh day Adventist Denomination among African Americans. Book Three Volume Three. Edited by Tama Henley Curry. Dudley Publications, 2000 Pp 88
*8 Manns, J. W. "Why Free Seventh day Adventists" p.11
*Special Note: Historian Douglas Morgan has recently written a volume which is the latest in George Knight's series on Adventist Pioneers. His book is entitled. "Lewis C. Sheafe, Apostle to Black America" published in the year 2010 by Review and Herald. He has a chapter dedicated to Shaefe's and Mann's alliance entitled "Free Seventh-day Adventists." He is an Historian and Professor at the Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland.